Review: “The Terrans,” Jean Johnson

Pros: Exceedingly in-depth worldbuilding
Cons: Has some issues
Rating: 3 out of 5

The setup of Jean Johnson’s The Terrans (First Salik War) is simple: Earth makes first contact with near-human aliens, and finds out that they have a mutual enemy in the horrible Salik (luckily first contact consists of Terrans (us) rescuing a V’Dan crew from the Salik). Jackie is an ambassador and psychic who’s in charge of any such contact, and Li’eth is the V’Dan crew’s leader.

 

I’m a fan of Jean Johnson’s fantasy offerings, so I thought I’d check out her science fiction. The first thing you need to know is that Ms. Johnson (in my experience) is first and foremost a worldbuilder. Her books tend to have a slow pace and sometimes have little in the way of action because she’s focusing on the details. This is the big key to knowing whether you’re likely to enjoy her work or not, because it’s a huge reader preference issue. Some readers like to read all the little details of worldbuilding; others hate it. So now that you know this book is pegged all the way to the worldbuilding side, you should have some idea of whether you’re likely to enjoy it or not.

The bad guys and not-so-nice good guys tend to be pretty flimsy. Yeah, it’s true we aren’t focusing on them, but it would be nice if they had a little more depth. Main characters (such as Jackie and Li’eth) get plenty of detail and emotion. I really like that the relationship that develops between Jackie and Li’eth is primarily emotional, with physical secondary. Too many books start with sexual attraction and build up the emotions after. That can be a fine thing, but variety is good.

Speaking of not-so-nice good guys, I am totally confused at the range of reactions to various nasty people. There’s a member of the military under Jackie who literally threatens her life, and after a couple minutes of off-the-record intervention-style chatting (and that chatting goes in some weird directions), it’s shrugged off. Whereas when Li’eth accidentally uses one of his powers in a potentially dangerous way, we get a whole bunch of freaking out over whether he should be charged with a crime. I simply can’t buy the idea that a direct death threat would be seen as less serious, especially in the military.

This takes place in 2287, and Earth is painted in very utopian colors. Again, it’s a reader-dependent thing. If you like speculating as to how a utopian society might work, I think you’ll enjoy this. I found it felt a little overdone, however. For example,

“We got rid of our appearance-based prejudices over a century ago!”

Not only is this something I just can’t buy into, but it’s demonstrably wrong. One character makes cracks about another character’s weight for some time.

There are also some out-of-the-blue silly tone-breakers, and some of the descriptions and explanations are awkwardly placed.

I expect it sounds as though I really didn’t like this. On the contrary, I found much to enjoy. I just also found a bunch of things that made The Terrans not quite add up right.

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